WASHINGTON - A key U.S. lawmaker said Sunday that Democrats in the House of Representatives could pursue impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump, saying that the U.S. leader had 'surrounded himself with crooks' and was part of a broad 'conspiracy against the American people' to win the 2016 election.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat set to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee when Democrats take control of the chamber next month, told CNN that lawmakers have to decide 'how important' allegations are against Trump, but should pursue impeachment charges 'only for serious offenses.'
Nadler offered his thoughts two days after federal prosecutors accused former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, 'in coordination with and at the direction' of Trump, of orchestrating $280,000 in hush money payments shortly before the 2016 election to two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump so they would stay silent before Election Day.
Nadler said that if proven, the allegations against Trump were 'certainly impeachable offenses.' That could lead to his removal from office, if the Senate were to convict him by at least a two-thirds vote, a doubtful proposition with Republican control of the Senate continuing in the Congress that takes office in January.
Nadler said lawmakers will have 'to look at all this,' along with weighing what special counsel Robert Mueller concludes about allegations that Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia to help him win and that, as president, Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the ongoing 19-month probe.
The U.S. Justice Department has a standing guideline against indicting sitting presidents, although they can be charged after leaving office. Nadler said, however, 'There's nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the president from being indicted. Nobody should be above the law.'
Trump has dismissed the latest allegations against him in connection with the payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal and allegations of Trump campaign contacts with Russia to help him win the election.
'We're very happy with what we're reading,' Trump said Saturday, following a Twitter comment Friday night, 'Totally clears the President. Thank you!'
Trump has called for the end to the Mueller probe, but a Republican lawmaker, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, told ABC News, 'I've always supported the Mueller investigation and continue to do so because I think it's in the best interest of everyone involved, including, by the way, the president.'
Aside from Cohen, who is set to be sentenced Wednesday and faces several years of imprisonment, Mueller so far has secured guilty pleas or won convictions of Trump's first national security adviser, his former campaign manager, his former deputy campaign manager, a foreign policy adviser and other lesser figures.
On Sunday, Trump assailed former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, whom Trump fired while he was heading the Russia investigation before Mueller was named to lead the probe.
Comey testified to a House panel on Friday about his role in 2016 election-related investigations of Trump's campaign and that of his challenger, Democrat Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state.
'On 245 occasions, former FBI Director James Comey told House investigators he didn't know, didn't recall, or couldn't remember things when asked,' Trump claimed on Twitter.
'Leakin' James Comey must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day. His Friday testimony was so untruthful! This whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people who would do anything so that I could not become President. They are now exposed!'